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Why do they do it and how can you avoid it?

As the primary hints of spring seem yearly, a brand new spherical of magpie assaults begins – or at the least, there may be an uptick within the variety of incidents involving the birds descending upon people. And our delight of their melodic warble provides option to gentle wariness once we step outdoors.

Because the nation enters one other “swooping season”, are you able to keep away from a magpie assault, and what must you do if a fowl swoops?

Credit score:Getty Pictures/Fairfax

Why do magpies swoop?

The easy reply is that the birds are defending their younger from issues they understand as a menace. Dr Man Castley, an city ecologist from Griffith College, says there are many myths concerning the birds being pumped up on testosterone throughout mating season and the like, however the latest research suggests a fowl often swoops solely when it has chicks in its nest.

“When the chicks have hatched, as much as once they depart the nest, is while you see the majority of the swooping behaviour,” Castley says. “It’s the birds responding to issues they understand as threats. That features people, canine, cats, snakes and anything the magpie decides is a menace to its chicks.”

That may additionally embrace different magpies. The birds can live in groups as large as 20 individuals or more, the Australian Museum notes, and often return to the identical locations to construct their nests. “Appropriate breeding websites are in brief provide and as soon as attained, a territory should be defended to stop it from being lowered or seized by a rival group.”

Even that charming birdsong has a territorial goal, La Trobe College PhD candidate Robin Johnsson has mentioned. “Magpies are very social, they’ve very complicated household teams and their carols are partly used to ascertain their territorial boundaries. And so they typically carol collectively, it’s seen as a option to strengthen household bonds between magpies.” (This was why Johnsson chose magpies as the subject of a study on sleep deprivation in birds, discovering they sang later within the day and extra easy songs once they had missed out on sleep, and that they carried out worse on some avian cognitive checks. A earlier examine by his staff confirmed streetlights shining via the night time disadvantaged magpies of sleep.)


Magpies are extraordinarily clever and research has shown that at the least some can recognise particular person people. They’re additionally probably the most frequent birds in Australia, says Sean Dooley, nationwide public affairs supervisor at Birdlife Australia, so the behaviour of a small fraction may give the impression that each one magpies swoop.

“Solely 10 per cent of the male magpies really swoop folks and the analysis suggests it’s really a realized behaviour,” Dooley says. “These birds may need had a foul expertise with people up to now, they usually do not forget that and swoop when people come close to their nest.”

September is the peak of the “swooping season”, though the birds nest from July to December and might swoop throughout these months too. Compounding the difficulty is the truth that magpies can breed at any time inside these months, and if they’ve a brood of chicks early within the season, they will actually have a second spherical of chicks months later.

Are all magpies harmful?

Though extraordinarily uncommon, deaths linked to magpie assaults do occur. A five-month-old girl died when her mother fell while being swooped by a magpie in Brisbane’s south in 2021. A man died in Wollongong in 2019 after crashing his bike whereas being attacked by a magpie.

The birds can even harm folks immediately. In 2020, a man and woman suffered eye injuries in separate incidents in regional Victoria involving a very aggressive magpie. Much more frequent are scratches to the top, neck or face from the birds’ sharp beaks.

Regardless of that, magpies have an unearned status as an aggressive species, Castley says. “The vast majority of birds are usually not aggressive. Even those which can be defending their territory will present restraint. However a number of are aggressive, they usually trigger the difficulty,” he says.

Native councils often compile data of magpie assaults, whereas the unbiased web site Magpie Alert compiles national data based on readers’ submissions. In 2021, its customers logged 1395 assaults in NSW, 1225 within the ACT, 1209 in Queensland, 1179 in Victoria, 247 in South Australia and 172 in WA. Total, greater than two-thirds of the assaults have been on cyclists. Accidents resulted in 12.9 per cent of incidents.

Magpies are usually not the one fowl that swoops in Australia: peewees, butcher birds and plovers do too, though Dooley says given magpies are extra frequent, the variety of incidents is greater.

What must you do if a magpie swoops you?

“It’s virtually a ceremony of passage to be swooped by a magpie in Australia, however it may be terrifying they usually can inflict harm. It’s uncommon nevertheless it occurs,” Dooley admits.

He says if a magpie does get you in its sights, the most effective factor to do is to remain calm, regardless of that being tough when an offended fowl is flapping in your face.

“Normally they really don’t attempt to make contact with you, they’re aiming to scare you off, in order that they’ll come at you from behind,” Dooley says.

“Waving your arms round or a stick or one thing is just going to make the fowl extra offended, so the most effective factor to do is stroll, not run, away from the world.”

Castley says as an alternative of waving your arms above your head, merely inserting them over your head to guard it’s the greatest guess.

“So, stroll as quick as you possibly can however don’t run, shield your face, and get out of there as shortly as doable to minimise your danger of damage,” he says.

However how are you going to keep away from getting swooped?

If there’s a nest, clearly steer clear. For those who can’t keep away from areas the place there are nests, remember that cyclists are usually more likely to be attacked than folks on foot, and runners are usually attacked greater than walkers. Dooley says that’s as a result of the birds view one thing shifting quickly into the neighborhood of their nest as a a lot higher menace than one thing shifting slowly.

“The birds don’t have time to evaluate whether or not somebody is a menace in the event that they’re shifting too shortly, so they only resolve it’s and begin swooping,” he says.

Castley says ploys similar to sticking googly eyes on the again of your helmet are of blended profit, and agrees with Dooley that carrying a persist with lash out on the birds will simply anger them extra. “A greater guess is one thing like an umbrella, which might defend you with out antagonising the fowl,” he says.

Exterior the rapid state of affairs, Dooley says enjoying an extended recreation may assist make sure you keep away from magpie assaults – at the least in your native space. As a result of the birds can recognise people, going out of your option to make mates with them can guarantee they recognise that you simply’re not a menace, he says.


“Clearly, it’s a bit impractical to hold some mince in your pocket whilst you’re out strolling or biking, however in case you feed them at your own home at different occasions of the yr, they are going to bear in mind come breeding season,” he says.

“And simply basically, in case you don’t antagonise the birds, they are going to largely depart you alone.”

Is something being achieved about downside magpies?

Most councils across the nation have magpie insurance policies. Brisbane Metropolis Council, which covers the world the place child Mia died, relocated the magpie believed to be answerable for the assault. It had already put up warning indicators within the park the place the fowl had its nest after it swooped quite a lot of different folks.

Wellington Shire Council in Gippsland in 2020 destroyed the 2 magpies answerable for attacking folks’s eyes, saying the birds had realized harmful behaviour and couldn’t be relocated safely.

Dooley says as a result of magpies are so widespread all through the areas that people inhabit, it’s within the pursuits of each to get alongside. “They’re not bastards, they’re really actually caring mother and father. We simply share the identical habitat, and we’ve to attempt to discover a option to co-exist.”

This explainer was first printed in August 2021 and has since been up to date.

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